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Palatable Cheap Vodka?

May 28, 2012

First – a precautionary statement.  We acknowledge this posting isn’t very “foodie” of us, in fact it’s a little immature and reminiscent of frat parties…but we certainly had a good time and thought we would share our adventure.

We’ve heard the urban myth that you can filter cheap vodka using a water filter and you end up with better testing vodka – it works for water, why not vodka?  For those who know me, you know why I chose Brita, for those who don’t, it’s the #1 brand in water filtration so it makes perfect sense.  But would it work?  Being curious, we simply had to find out.  Brita pitcher and filter in hand, we set forth for the ABC liquor store.  Having never shopped the ground floor shelf of the vodka aisle we were amazed at the selection of cheap offerings.  We explained our intent to the ABC employee who knew all about this little test (he has regular customers who swear by it!), he recommended we start with Aristocrat vodka.  We bought two bottles of Aristocrat – 1) to filter, and 2) to taste unfiltered.  Then we wanted to compare against a mid-tier brand, we didn’t think we would get to the taste level of a premium brand such as Grey Goose, so we chose Smirnoff (don’t roll your eyes, it is a mid-tier brand and priced 3X above Aristocrat!).

What better place to do this little taste test than at the Low Country Boil (previous posting) party – between the Boil and our taste test we all had a great time!  We decided if we’re filtering the vodka we might as well try to get it as good as possible, so we ended up filtering the cheap stuff SIX times in our Brita filter.   Sound like overkill?  We’re talking about cheap vodka here, by itself it’s pretty rough.  Our first round of tasting was the unfiltered version…and wow did it burn (visions of a supreme hangover danced in our heads)!  Our second tasting was the filtered batch, and we have to say the filtered batch was much (MUCH) better…dare we say it was “smooth” with really no burn to it?!?!  Finally, we tasted Smirnoff, and the burn promptly returned.  Hands down the filtered Aristocrat tasted far better then it’s unfiltered version and surpassed the Smirnoff version too.  It was unanimous among our tasters and we call our test a huge success.

Granted, it was filtered six times.  A few lingering questions in our minds….first, does it improve the taste that drastically if it’s only filtered once?  Second, should we compare against a premium brand like Grey Goose, obviously our expectations were too low going into this test!  More research is clearly needed on this topic.  Our honest conclusion at this point – filtering really did taste better but we don’t think it’ll ever reach premium level, and once it’s mixed with other things you’re not likely to really notice the difference.  That’s our viewpoint, like it or not.

A Low Country Boil

May 5, 2012

We’ve heard a lot about Low Country Boil’s but being from out West we really had no idea what it was.  So we did what any foodie would do and asked a co-worker who happened to be from South Carolina to have a cook-out.  Our chef for the night was Eric Hash……who graciously opened his home to show us how a local makes a Low Country Boil.

We love regional food so we were excited to try something new!  We learned that a Low Country Boil is a social event and the one-pot dish typically includes potatoes, sausage, corn on the cob, shrimp (or other shell-fish), and seasonings.  It’s known regionally as Frogmore Stew (the name of a comunity in St. Helena Island, near Beafort SC), or Beaufort Stew/Boil.  But we didn’t come for a history lesson, we came for the food!

Eric’s recipe…in his own words

Hash Low Country Boil (This recipe is for 15 servings and what I cooked Saturday night):


Old Bay Seasoning to taste ( I used 2.5 cans Saturday night and you can add as little or more as you want for flavor). You can also add hot peppers or favorite hot sauce to the boil for some heat.

5 pounds new potatoes cut in half or (I used two bags of the small red potatoes)

3 (16 ounce) packages cooked kielbasa sausage, cut into 1 inch pieces

8 ears fresh corn, husks and silks removed (I cut these in half or you can also buy the frozen corn that is smaller)

4 pounds fresh shrimp

4 onions (cut in half’s)

3 Lemons (cut in quarters)

 At this point you can also add any other seafood you would like (crab, scallops, etc.)

 Basically from this point you just boil the water. I used 4 gallons Saturday night. Then you add the ingredients in the following order and it takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour cook time:

  1.  Old Bay Seasoning and then wait for the water to boil
  2. Potatoes (Let these boil for 10 to 15 minutes)
  3. Onions, Lemon
  4. Sausage (Then add these and let boil for another 10 minutes)
  5. Corn (Then add these and let boil for another 10 minutes)
  6. Shrimp (The add these and they only need to boil for about 2-3 minutes or until pink)

 The key for me is to keep poking the potatoes and check if they are done with a fork, etc. and that will tell when it is time to eat (also the corn)! Dump out and enjoy.

Our Low Country Boil turned out pretty delicious.  Eric was trying to impress us by serving the dish in a big pretty bowl….little did we know that the true way to serve this dish was spreading newspapers on a table and tossing the boil right onto the table.  We’re a little disappointed we didn’t get to experience it that way but maybe next time.  In any event, the Boil was awesome, and true to it’s purpose, we had a great social outing!

Taste of the Nation Charlotte

April 8, 2012

Taste of the Nation Charlotte

We’re excited to attend this years Taste of the Nation event in Charlotte!  Tasty food from local places, drinks, music…sounds like a great time.  Even better is when it all comes together to support a really great cause – ending childhood hunger.

This year the event will be held on Wednesday April 11th and the local beneficiaries are the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina and the Community Culinary School of Charlotte (which provides training in the food industry for the unemployed or underemployed who face barriers to employment).  Both are great causes and we’re looking forward to the event.

The list of 2012 participating restaurants is impressive and we’re already formulating our plan of attack once we’re inside to maximize our tasting exposure!

Finding Cuilnary Nirvana in San Francisco

March 21, 2012

We tasted our way through San Franciso and we’re excited to bring you our culinary adventure!

First…We’re going to start with coffee.  Coffee you ask?  Yes, this goes beyond Starbucks and takes the coffee experience to a totally different level.

Blue Bottle Coffee – this is the Nirvana of coffee.  It is NOT the overly complicated triple grande half caff extra hot dry two pumps of pretentious drink that we all know about, this is amazingly high quality, organic, fresh roasted, and expertly prepared coffee.  It is without a doubt the best cappucinno we’ve ever tasted, we dream about it, and this place is our first stop when we come to visit the city by the bay.

Our next stop is the Ferry Building….here’s our pick of the shops inside, but we highly recommend you visit on a Saturday to experience the famous Farmer’s Market, you’re view on fresh produce will be forever changed!

  • Cowgirl Creamery – if you want delicious cheese, look no further.   The Mt. Tam is our favorite and we’re happy to report that you can find it at our local Dean & Deluca!  If you’re in the Ferry Building though taste some of their other offerings, their fresh cheeses are amazing, who knew that fresh ricotta would taste so…well, fresh!
  • Acme Bread Company – we don’t even know how to descibe the delicious bread here, it’s one of the first things we missed when we moved away…and we have to admit, we haven’t found anything that stands up to this place.  The bread is crusty, earthy, fresh baked, and oh so delish.  At lunch time they have a limited supply of sandwiches made on baguettes with cow girl creamery cheese…uhm, that’s double Nirvana in the same lunch!
  • Far West Funghi – mushrooms not your thing?  We came here for one thing, Truffle Salt!  Truffles are so over the top expensive but this salt has the punguent indulgent flavor of truffles, and don’t get us wrong, it was pretty pricey for salt, but it’ll go a long ways.  It’s a finishing salt so it’s one of the foodie items we brought home with us – we can’t wait to sprinkle on meats, veggies, pastas, and popcorn!
  • Golden Gate Meat Company – family owned and operated, this is the Nirvana of meats.  The selection and quality of their meats is unmatched, plus they are a full service butcher so they are more than happy to cut a custom selection for you.  If you’re a visitor you may not be in the market for meats, in that case we highly recommend grabbing a breakfast sandwich from their ready made counter (think kaiser roll, egg, thick cut bacon…you get the gist), then get coffee at Blue Bottle for a breakfast of champions (or atleast a foodie champion)!
  • Miette – the prettiest cakes and cupcakes you will ever see!  They look like little works of art and taste equally amazing.  While we love the traditional cakes that are eye-popping, our love is the Lime Meringue Tart, with the lime cream and topped with their classic icing…it’s a modern twist in a classic dish (and we love that!).

San Francisco is known for a diverse dining experience and our next culinary adventure took us out for Indian. Dosa, specializing in Southern Indian Cuisine (vs. the traditional Northern fare that we associate to Indian food).  It’s a totally different experience!  We ordered so many dishes we can’t recap them all, but we’ll try to illustrate the flavors….the sauces (mint raita,  sweet onion chutney, fresh coconut & tomato chutney) were mouthwatering and complimented the Dosa and Uttapam (rice & lentil crepes) while the entree’s were an explosion of spices and flavor, we loved the Duck Vindaloo.  You must try Dosa if you’re interested in taking your taste sensations to a new place!

Our final recommendation is the famed Gary Danko.  A high-end dining spot that has won numerous awards.  Would it live up to our expectations?  From start to finish our meal was heaven, it’s the very definition of Culinary Nirvana!  We started with a decadent portion of Foie Gras (it’s to be banned in California so we had to taste now or never), and it was totally indulgent and luxurious.  Next we moved on to a Juniper Crusted Venison, prepared perfectly and the juniper crust gave it an interesting herbal high-note without being overpowering.  The cheese course was next and it was by far the best selection of cheeses we have ever tasted, with a selection of four different types (we can’t recall the specifics) but at this point we were already in Nirvana heaven that we almost forgot about the finale.  For our final course we ordered the Chocolate Soufflé and as expected the dish was rich but also fluffy, airy, and light.  We absolutely loved the Soufflé but we have to admit, we had a little table envy when we saw the spectacular Flambéed Pineapple prepared table side.  We could go on and on about our meal, it was clearly the Nirvana we were searching for and perhaps gives new definition to our culinary standards!

This list certainly isn’t the only Nirvana to be found in San Francisco, it’s just a sampling of what we tasted on this trip.  We’re back in Charlotte now and we’ll get back to tasting and reporting our finds in the Carolina’s.  We hope you enjoyed our report out from San Francisco, if you’re in the city by the bay be sure to check out these places and pass along your own suggestions.

San Francisco – where our foodie adventures began

February 26, 2012

Every once in a while our day job takes us back to where we began our foodie adventures…San Francisco!  Part business, part good times in our old stomping grounds.

We’re looking forward to going back, seeing friends, and eating some amazing food.  Our quest for Culinary Nirvana will lead the way as we go back to some of our favorite spots.  We also know that the scene changes rapidly in the Bay Area so we’re excited to discover some new favorites.

We’ll  be keeping notes on our tastings and we’ll be bringing you a report out of our recommendations.  In the meantime, if you happen to have any inside scoop for NOT to be missed spots in San Francisco then please send them our way!

Stay Tuned…..

Mac’s Speed Shop – BBQ Heaven!

February 20, 2012

We admit, we’re west coast people.  We thought we had tasted good BBQ, having nothing to compare it to we lived in blissful ignorance.  Then we moved out here and our taste buds have never been the same since.  We learned that we really didn’t have a clue what delicious BBQ was all about.

One of our favorite BBQ places is Mac’s Speed Shop (part BBQ joint, part Biker bar) and without a doubt our favorite thing on the menu is the Pulled Pork BBQ.  Succulent, tender, and so flavorful…out taste buds water just thinking about it.  The dish comes with a choice of two sides and while we’re sure they’re all delish we have never wavered from the green bean casserole and mac & cheese.  The sides seem so tempting that one of these days we’ll just do the Veggie Plate and select a hand-ful of sides for dinner!

We love that we can pick & choose the different sauces – and we know that choosing one sauce over the other is likely to spur a brawl with different folks so we’re just going to say that we enjoy the flavors of all of them – here’s a rundown of the samplings….

  • SC Mustard – our friends down in South Carolina are known for their version of sauce made from vinegar and mustard.
  • Carolina BBQ – a thin vinegar based sauce with spices.
  • Red BBQ (the only sauce the folks on the west coast are familiar with) – a thicker sauce that is a bit sweet and usually tomato based.

Mac’s has several locations in the Charlotte area – the original in South End, one up North for our Lake Norman friends, and one down south.  We love the original in South End (it feels more “real”), but the one on South Tryon is a good runner-up.  We’ve never been to the location up North but we feel it’s a safe bet given our experience at the other two spots.

Mac’s Speed Shop

Manhattans – A Classic Cocktail Revisited

January 29, 2012

Why Manhattans?  Two of our friends (and a third that we didn’t even know liked Manhattans) have a knack for mixing Manhattans…a classic cocktail that you always hear about but rarely order much less make at home!  We decided to connect our friends and have them inspire us with their creations, they would mix and we would sip!

First, a brief history.  The background claims that it was supposedly invented in the 1870’s by a bartender at the Manhattan Club, when Jennie Churchill threw a party for the newly elected governor of New York, Samuel James Tilden.  That does make a good story but other facts show that Jennie was pregnant in England at the time giving birth to baby Winston at the time of the governor’s party.

A cool link to a video history of the Manhattan… 1stLook: Cocktail History

Enough history, it was time to taste!  Let’s meet our mixologists of the evening….

Mike Roberts

Vince Fultz

Paul Durfee

So what exactly is a Manhattan?  It was originally made with rye but over the years the recipes now call for bourbon or whiskey.  Add some sweet vermouth, a dash of bitters, either shake and serve up or stir and serve on the rocks, top with a Maraschino cherry.  Sounds simple enough but the proportions here are critical.  Our friends offered up two versions of the cocktail.

Mike’s recommendation…

  • 3 shots bourbon whiskey
  • 1 shot sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • Shake or stir together, serve up or on the rocks.
  • Add two teaspoons cherry juice, garnish with a couple cherries

Vince’s recommendation…

  • 2 shots bourbon whiskey
  • 1 shot sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • Shake or stir and serve up or on the rocks
  • Add 1 1/2 teaspoons cherry juice and garnish with a cherry

Since we were tasting and comparing, we felt obligated to compare and contrast the drinks with different types of liquor (including rye!)….

The rye offered an interesting slightly spicy taste (to be considered rye, it must be made from atleast 51% rye), while the Woodford Reserve was my personal favorite, such a smooth and easy drinking liquor with a full-bodied aroma.  Who knew mixing up Manhattans would be similiar to wine tasting!!

Needless to say, we had a great time sipping (and sipping is key for this drink) Manhattans.  In fact, we’re inspired to go mix up more classic cocktails, perhaps more postings of the classics will be forthcoming!

"Everyone needs a hobby dear....mine is cocktails"


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